Diets worldwide that are rich in fried and salty foods increase
heart attack risk, while eating lots of fruit, leafy greens and other
vegetables reduces that risk, a study published Monday showed.
The study, called Interheart, looked at 16 000 heart attack patients
and controls between 1999 and 2003 in countries on every continent, including South Africa, marking a shift from previous studies which have focussed on the
The patients and controls filled in a "dietary risk score"
questionnaire based on 19 food groups, which contained healthy and
unhealthy items and were tweaked to include dietary preferences of each
country taking part in the study.
What the study found
The researchers found that people who eat a diet high in fried
foods, salty snacks, eggs and meat - the "Western Diet" - had a 35% greater risk of having a heart attack than people who consumed little or no fried foods or meat, regardless of where they live.
People who ate a "Prudent Diet" - high in leafy green vegetables,
other raw and cooked vegetables, and fruits - had a 30% lower
risk of heart attack than those who ate little or no fruit and veg, the
The third dietary pattern, called the "Oriental Diet" because it
contained foods such as tofu and soy sauce which are typically consumed
in Asian societies, was found to have little impact on heart attack
risk. Although some items in the Oriental diet might have protective
properties such as vitamins and anti-oxidants, others such as soy sauce
have a high salt content which would negate the benefits, the study
What the findings mean
The study was groundbreaking in its scope and because previous
research had focussed mainly on developed countries, according to Salim
Yusuf, a senior author of the study.
"We had focussed research on the West because heart disease was
mainly predominant in western countries 25-30 years ago," said Yusuf, who is
a professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada. "But heart disease is now increasingly striking people in developing countries. Eighty percent of heart disease today is in low- to middle-income countries" partly because more people around the world are eating western diets, he said.
"This study indicates that the same relationships that are observed
in western countries exist in different regions of the world," said
Yusuf, who is also head of the Population Health Research Institute at
Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario.
Patients who had been admitted to coronary care units in 262 centres
around the world, and at least one control subject per patient, took
part in the study.
The Interheart results were published in Circulation, the
journal of the American Heart Association. The main countries in the study were Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia in South America; Canada and the United States in North America; Sweden in western Europe; Croatia, Poland and Russia for
eastern Europe; and Dubai, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait and Qatar for the Middle
In sub-Saharan Africa, the main countries were Cameroon, Kenya,
Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe; while nearly all the South Asian
countries - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka - took
part, as did Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines and
Singapore, Yusuf told AFP. – (Sapa, October 2008)
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